Of all the marshes, in all the refuges, in the entire world, it flew into mine. Well not exactly mine, rather the Federal Government’s refuge. However this particular refuge is Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, a relatively short 2 hour drive due west from Cincinnati near the lovely town of Seymour Indiana. I and Jon are on a mission, a new life bird for me mission.
It’s 3 am Saturday morning, and I’ve been tossing and turning for the last 45 minutes just thinking about our trip today. I finally give in and walk into the kitchen and fire up the coffee maker, a vital resource for these early morning trips. While the urn fills with the wake-up juice I shower and dress for yet another rainy day. At 4 am after a quick breakfast and the gear stored away in the bird-mobile, I’m off to the gas station for a quick splash and dash.
At 4:30 am I arrive at Jon’s house. He was planning on doing the driving today but when i suggested we leave at 4:30 I included the offer to drive to make up for the sleep deprivation Jon was going to experience. I really wanted to get to Muscatatuck as early as possible. My original plan if Jon wasn’t going was to leave the house at 3:30 am. I don’t want to dip on this bird. This bird is a big deal, in a little package.
You see it all started a week ago last Sunday after I got home from my trip to Lake Erie. It was in the evening when Jon texted me and asked if I had checked the Indiana Listserv. It turns out a local Cincinnati birder (who, by the way is a very good birder) heard a Black Rail at Endicott Marsh, which is located inside Muscatatuck NWR.
A BLACK RAIL! One of the most elusive birds in all of North America, is just 2 hours from my house. And despite just being 2 hours away, it seemed to take forever to get there once we pulled away from Jon’s house.
We pulled through the refuge gate at 6:30ish and headed back to Endicott Marsh. During the week building up to this morning I’ve been on Indiana’s Listserv checking multiple times each day waiting for verification that the bird was still there. And each day someone reported that it was, calling from different locations in the marsh. A confirmation on Friday sealed the deal to make the trip early Saturday morning.
We were the first to arrive. The crunch of the gravel under the tires and the Red-winged Blackbirds was the only sound heard as I rummaged in the back seat getting my harness on and attaching my bins and camera. Jon heard the bird first, as usual. It wasn’t the typical “ke-ke-kerr” call we normally associate the Black Rail to. After adjusting my hearing to other sounds other than Red-winged Blackbirds and Sedge Wrens, I heard the bird. This time it was the “ik-ik-ik” call, further out and easily overlooked if you weren’t really listening closely.
For the next couple of hours we birded around the area, always listening for the Black Rail, hoping it would move closer. Eventually it changed it’s call to the more familiar “ke-ke-kerr”, which gave me a bit of satisfaction knowing beyond a shadow of doubt the bird was there. Tick off another lifer.